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Grow a Flower Child

There are few things as rewarding as introducing children to the joy of gardening. Once school is out, I enjoy inviting several of my friends and their children over to enjoy an afternoon of decorating and planting containers.  It’s a fun activity, and a great way for kids to learn the basics of planting and caring for their buckets of blooms. Parents and kids can enjoy the activity together and then take home the container as a keepsake of the event.

When everyone arrives, the children dive into the fun by personalizing their own containers with stencils and markers. To keep things simple, I divide the plants into three groups—flowers, foliage and fragrance—and let them choose a plant from each collection. After they fill their buckets with soil, they plant their container and label it as their own with a colorful plant name tag.

Stenciling the ContainerPotting up Container GardensFinished Container Garden

Everyone gets a chance to see what others have made as they enjoy some special treats. The party food is presented in flowerpots that look as if they are filled with dirt and worms. At first parents are a little dubious, but the kids really love the confections made from crushed chocolate cookies, pudding, and gummy worms. As the celebration winds down, the children take home their containers and a plastic watering can as a keepsake of the party.

Special Party Treats:

  • Dirt and Worm Pudding
  • Dip made of peanut butter and honey.  Dippers were apples and bananas splashed with pineapple or lemon juice to keep them from discoloring.
  • A platter of oatmeal cookies, sticks of string cheese, bite size Ritz crackers and goldfish crackers.
  • A platter of gelatin Jigglers in lime, orange, and cherry flavors in flower, star, and fish shapes.
  • The terra-cotta pots can also be used to hold party favors such as stencils, markers, plastic scoops and packets of easy-to-grow seeds, such as sunflowers.

 

For a list of materials and ideas on how to set up the party, pick up a copy of my book, Living in the Garden Home.

 

Plant a Seed

This activity gives children a firsthand experience in growing plants. The magic of planting a seed and watching it spring to life can spark a child’s sense of wonder. Teaching a child to care for a plant is a good way to help them gain a better appreciation and understanding of the natural world around them.

Materials

  • Potting Soil
  • Containers such as egg cartons, or milk cartons cut in half or recycled nursery packs with added drainage holes
  • Easy Seeds:
    Sunflowers
    Pumpkins
    Beans
    Nasturtium
    Gourds

Steps:

Planting a Seed Fill your containers with potting soil.

Plant the seeds and water.

Place the planted containers in a sunny window and keep the soil consistently moist.

Transplant outside after the last frost date in your area.

Good to Know

All seeds have a hard protective outer covering that protects the embryo plant inside until conditions are favorable for it to grow. Seeds contain nutrients for the young plant to draw on until it can emerge through the soil and photosynthesis can begin. Through the process of photosynthesis, the plant uses energy from the sun, and stores that energy in the tissue of the plant.

More than 230,000 different kinds of plants reproduce from seeds.

The pull of gravity tells a seedling which way is down. That is how the roots know which way to grow.

Some plant roots are strong enough to break boulders.

Kid-Sized Fruits

There was a time when you did not have to travel far to show children where their food originated. Often the fruits and vegetables served at dinner were harvested right out of the backyard. And you know what? The backyard is still a good place to connect kids with the food they eat. You can get your kids excited about growing some of their own food by choosing things you know they love to eat, like berries.

Every kid loves strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and blackberries. Small fruits like these are ideal for the home garden because they don’t require a lot of space and you don’t have to have a dedicated place in your garden for them. Learn about a plant’s characteristics and incorporate it into your garden’s design just like you would use a shrub, perennial or annual.

Use strawberries as groundcover.

You can edge a raised bed with strawberries or use them as a seasonal groundcover.

Plant a blueberry hedge.

Plant a blueberry hedge.

Raspberries growing on a trellis.

Blackberries and raspberries will grow up trellises.

Grapes growing on an arbor.

Grapes will scramble over an arbor.

Planting strawberries in containers for kids.

Containers of strawberries and blueberries are especially kid friendly.

Most small fruits have the same basic growing requirements – full sun and well-draining soil. Be sure to select varieties that are suited to your climate and are disease and pest resistant.

Individual Fruit Pizzas

Mini fruit pizzas are a delicious way to prepare the harvested fruits.

Apple Seeds Teaches Kids Healthy Nutrition through Gardening

I want to get on my “seed box” for a minute about a topic that shouldn’t be a topic in one of the richest countries in the world – childhood hunger. Arkansas has the highest rate of childhood hunger in the nation. At the same time, approximately 38 percent of Arkansas students have been found to be overweight or at risk of being overweight each school year. My recent visit to Northwest Arkansas and the Apple Seeds afterschool program introduced me to those baffling statistics, but also made me wonder “how do we fix it?”

According to Beth Ashbaugh, executive director of Apple Seeds, it’s all about community buy-in.

Apple Seeds is an after-school program based in three Fayetteville schools that focuses on creating healthy lifestyles for students and their families. School gardens, cooking, field trips, and farm-to-fork initiatives are what make healthy living come alive for these students. Their hands-on activities help teach them to make lifelong nutritious food choices and to create a sustainable food system.

“Gardening is just the catalyst to get the kids interested in something they wouldn’t be likely to care about otherwise,” said Lucy Kagan, an AmeriCorp VISTA volunteer and the Plant to Plate coordinator for Apple Seeds.

At Owl Creek Elementary, one of the afterschool gardening programs, there are six adult volunteers that make the program a success. They have students work in the gardens, write about what they’re seeing, cook with the ingredients that they’ve grown, and eat these healthy snacks.
“The organization has been growing and empowering healthy children for seven years, but we saw a huge jump in the impact of the program once we started getting more community participation,” Ashbaugh said.

While Ashbaugh organizes the gardens and shows kids how to plant, she says that it’s the knowledge of the other program leaders that truly brings that information to life. A local chef teaches the students’ parents how to cook simple, healthy meals, the 5th grade science teacher uses the gardens as a lab for the students, and the school nurse instructs the kids on fitness and healthy living choices.

“Our mission can go so much farther when other people, especially experts, offer their skills,” Ashbaugh said. “One of our goals is to find community partners that we can set up with the resources that they need and support them. They, in turn, support these kids.”

Kagan’s goal is for every child to know where his or her food comes from, and she thinks the program is making that a reality.

“The change in attitudes that you see from kids after three weeks of working in a garden is amazing,” she said. “There’s an attitude of positive peer pressure with ‘who can eat the weirdest thing’ and the students see a connection with their bodies and what they eat. You never know what will lead kids to make better eating choices in the future, but it’s happening here every day.”

Just witnessing the program in action was an inspiration, but like Kagan and Ashbaugh pointed out, “there’s something like this in every community- it’s going mainstream now.”

“People are looking for alternatives. The economy is weak, we have more access to information about good foods versus bad foods, and people want to know about and cook their own food. They just need a little guidance and advice, and we can do that.”

I encourage you to reach out to these types of programs in your own community. You never know how your skills might help create healthier lives.

Kid Friendly Herbs

The best way I can think of to get kids interested in gardening is to give them their own space where they can take ownership of what
they grow. That’s how I got hooked. My dad set aside an area in the backyard for me to grow vegetables. As the family sat around the
table we would name all the supper ingredients that came from my little vegetable patch.

Tips:

  • Selecting plants is an exciting part of gardening so allow your children to pick out what they want to grow. You can help them by making suggestions of the easier things to grow.
  • Make the connection between the things they like to eat and plants that grow in the garden. Tell them how a tomato equals pizza, peppers make cheese dip and strawberries turn into ice cream.
  • Be sure to nurture their creativity and ideas even if they differ from your own.
  • Do fun projects in the garden like building a tee-pee trellis for vining plants or a scarecrow. Aluminum pie plate wind catchers are entertaining and will keep the birds away.
  • Note your kids’ activities around the garden and what interests them and capitalize on these to make it a positive experience for them.
  • Encourage their imaginations and make sure they have some successes, even if you have to work behind the scenes a little.
  • Most importantly, spend time in the garden with your kids. This is best encouragement of all.

Project: Easy Herb Window Pots

When it comes to plants, herbs are always a good choice for the young gardeners. They are easy to care for and herbs will introduce
children to fragrance, flavor, and texture.

Here’s a project that will get your kids off to a good start in the garden with herbs planted in brightly colored pails.

  • Bright colored metal pails
  • Potting Soil
  • Herbs
  • Hammer
  • Nail
  • Watering Can
  1. Using the nail and hammer, punch drainage holes into the bottom of the pails.
  2. Fill the pails about two-thirds full with soil.
  3. Plant a single herb in each pail and back fill with soil.
  4. Water well and add more soil as needed.
  5. Place the pails in a spot that will receive 6 to 8 hours of sunlight.

Herbs for Children

All of these herbs from my friends at Bonnie plants have grown with relish in my garden and always delight the kids that come here to visit.

  • Spicy Globe basil has tiny, kid-sized leaves and makes a very tasty pesto.
  • Curly parsley is pretty enough to put in a vase and it freshens breath.
  • Mint grows so easily that sometimes it’s hard to contain but it has a wonderful, refreshing fragrance and flavor that tastes like toothpaste and can be used in candy and is good as a tummy settler.
  • Lemon thyme has a fragrance and flavor that youngsters will love, like lemonade in the summertime.
  • Sage has lovely blue flowers and has a strong connection to our friend the turkey and Thanksgiving.
  • Pineapple sage flowers smell and taste like chewing gum and butterflies love it.
  • Stevia, sometimes known as sweetleaf, is amazing when paired with other herbs and tasted together.

Bowling Ball Ladybugs

I never really considered the fate of old bowling balls until I saw how they could be transformed into whimsical ladybugs for the garden. It’s a fun project for kids that teaches them about repurposing items rather than sending them to the landfill.

Materials to Make a Ladybug Bowling Ball:

  • Bowling Ball (I got mine from a local bowling alley.)
  • Exterior primer paint
  • Red exterior paint
  • Black exterior paint
  • Paint brush
  • Stencil-sponge brush
  • Black caulk
  • Large copper wire
  • Large wood beads with pre-drilled holes (available at craft stores)

Directions for Making a Ladybug Bowling Ball:

Bowling Ball Ladybug

Paint the bowling ball with two coats for exterior primer paint.

After the primer dries apply three coats of red exterior paint.

Set aside to dry.

Use painter’s tape to make an outline of a stripe down the ladybugs back. Keep in mind that the copper wire antennas will go into the side-by-side pair of finger holes, so these holes need to point slightly upward. Paint the stripe black.

Using a round stencil-sponge brush, paint black circles to mimic the dots on a ladybug.

Bowling Ball Ladybug

Set aside to dry.

Paint the wood beads black.

Next, fill in the finger holes with some black caulk.

Insert the copper wire into two of the finger holes. These are the antenna.

Fill the holes in the wood beads with a little caulk and push the beads on to the copper wire.

Bowling Ball Ladybug

You can twist and turn the antenna any way you want to give your ladybug a little more personality. Pretty swell, huh?

Kid’s Project: Seed Box

Spend an afternoon with your kids creating a personalized seed box that they can give as a gift or keep for storing their flower and vegetable seeds.  It’s a great way to introduce them to gardening.

Materials:
Wooden recipe box (available at craft stores for about $8)
Acrylic paint
Ribbon
Craft glue
Scissors
Items for decorating the box such as appliqués, fabric flowers, glitter pens, foam flowers

Child Making a Seed BoxMother and Child Gluing Ribbon to Seed BoxChild Holding Up Finished Seed Box

Directions:
Paint the wooden recipe box.

Allow the box to dry overnight.   

After the paint has dried add some colorful ribbon borders using craft glue.  Kids may need a helping hand with this – one of you can hold the ribbon while the other to glues it down. 

Now for the fun part, adding all of the decorative elements.  Use fabric appliqués, foam letters, glitter pens, and fabric flowers to personalize the seed box.  Just about anything will work so be creative and have fun.

Finally fill the seed box with seed packets. 

Borax Crystal Ornaments

I recently discovered a way to put Borax to good use – crystal pipe cleaner ornaments. These holiday decorations are a snap to make and will last quite a long time.

What You’ll Need:

  • White Pipe Cleaners
  • String
  • Twig/Pencil
  • Borax (I used 20 Mule Team Laundry Booster. Do not use Boraxo Soap.)
  • Water
  • Blue Food Coloring (optional)
  • Jars Large Enough to Submerge Ornament in Borax Solution

 

Borax Ornament

Steps:
1. Fashion your ornaments out of white pipe cleaners or any other color of your choosing. I made spirals but you can make a wide range of shapes. Just use your imagination.

2. Tie one end of your string to the top of your ornament and the other end to your twig or pencil. Or, if your shape allows, bend the tip of the pipe cleaner over your twig to hold the ornament in place.

3. Mix together your crystal solution at a ratio of 3 tablespoons of Borax to one cup of boiling water. Stir until the Borax dissolves. Don’t expect all of the powder to dissolve, some may settle on the bottom. To give your crystal a slightly blue cast, add a drop or two of blue food coloring.

Pipe Cleaner Soaking in Borax4. Pour the crystal solution into a wide mouth jar. You will need enough of this solution to submerge your pipe cleaner ornament. You can divide it among several jars if you want to make more than one ornament.

5. Submerge your ornament in the crystal solution with the twig resting on the lip of the jar so that the ornament hangs freely. You do not want the ornament to touch the bottom of the jar

Borax Cyrstal6. Leave the ornament in place for overnight.

In the morning you should have a beautiful holiday ornament covered in crystals!

While Borax is an earth friendly cleaner, it is not edible. So keep your ornaments away from small children and pets.

Daffodil Garden

Bulbs are “prepackaged flowers” that are easy to grow. As they develop and bloom, the plants delight children with their colors and beauty. With this activity kids plant a daffodil garden of their own design outdoors and then grow a paperwhite indoors so they can learn how their daffodil bulbs will develop into blooms.

Materials For Daffodil Garden:

  • Shovel(s)
  • 20 to 30 daffodil bulbs
  • Trowel(s)
  • Spoons
  • Synthetic bulb fertilizer
  • Water and mulch

 

Materials For Paperwhites:

  • large, clear plastic cups
  • pea sized gravel
  • tape
  • marking pens
  • paperwhite narcissus bulbs
  • water

 

Directions:
Creating a BedFirst prepare a planting bed for the daffodil bulbs. Now you can tackle this task on your own before your children get involved, but I find that most kids enjoy this part of the project. Site the bed in an area that has good drainage and receives full sun. Daffodils need 4 to 6 hours of sunlight in the spring and the bulbs should be planted about 6 inches apart, so select an area and measure out the bed size accordingly. Loosen the soil 8 to 10 inches deep. If your soil is heavy with clay, improve drainage by mixing in some compost or humus.

Placing the BulbsThere are several ways to design the daffodil garden. For a natural drift have your children toss the bulbs on the ground and start planting them wherever they land keeping 6 inches of space between the bulbs . They can also arrange the bulbs to form their initials or a simple shape.

With the bulbs arranged, you are ready to plant. Instruct the children to dig a hole for each bulb. The rule of thumb is to dig a hole 3 times as deep as the bulb is wide. For daffodils this usually works out to be about 6 inches. Place a spoonful of synthetic bulb food in each hole, add the bulb and backfill with soil. Water and mulch the bed and you are ready to move indoors to plant the paperwhites.

DaffodilWrite each child’s name on a large, clear plastic cup.

Fill the cup 1/2 full with pea gravel.

Place 1 paperwhite bulb in each cup on top of the rocks with the tapered end pointing up. Add more gravel until the lower half of the bulb is covered.

Pour just enough water into the cup so that it just touches the bottom of the bulb.

Place the cups in a cool spot with indirect light.

The bulbs will quickly develop roots. Have the children check the water level to make sure the gravel does not dry out.

When the green foliage appears move the cups to an area that receives more light.

After about 3 to 4 weeks the bulbs will put forth fragrant white blooms for the whole family to enjoy and the children will be able to see in rapid motion how their daffodil garden will develop over the course of winter and early spring.